VOLUME 17 ISSUE 6 December 2020

Andreas D. Mavroyiannis


Small states emerging from decolonisation in the second half of the twentieth century had to struggle unrelentingly in order to create and maintain the organic conditions for their survival. The challenges have been numerous, daunting and far-reaching. From the fragility and vulnerabilities inherent to all newly emerged states, to the lofty fight for political development and the building of structures that guarantee democracy and the rule of law without prior experience in self-administration, the never-ending task of economic and social development, and the fulfilment of the responsibilities emanating from sovereignty and international relations, in the cold war era no less. These are some of the most salient factors that have determined the main tenets of these states’ foreign policy.

In the case of Cyprus, one needs to add the weight of history, the consociational nature of its polity and of course geography: a strategic spot on the map that wouldn’t allow it to find its place under the sun without interference from powerful neighbours, the currents and the waves that agitate the Mediterranean and the Middle East, constantly imposing the handling of delicate situations that dwarf its size and capacity. The fact that it faces for the last 46 years foreign occupation and division, have made survival and peace through a fair and lasting settlement the primary and overarching determinants of national interest.

Inescapably, Cyprus’ foreign policy has always been operating within these constraints, always having to walk a thin line between conflicting interests, in order to repel attempts threatening its very existence: from the tragedy of the Turkish invasion and the ever present threat of use of force to the dismemberment attempted by the proclamation of an illegal entity in the occupied north. Though reunification has eluded us, in spite of continuous efforts, mainly due to lack of political will on the part of the Turkish side which sits comfortably on the faits accomplish it keeps creating, the consistent successful implementation of this survival policy, has so far stemmed the efforts for projection of the secessionist entity as a separate state and preserved legality. It succeeded also in contributing in bringing about growth and stability, while the Cyprus social landscape is being progressively transformed from a rural underdeveloped space into a modern, developed, European society.

Accession to the European Union in 2004, after almost fourteen years of sustained efforts and after overcoming incredible challenges and, conducting successful negotiations and adjustment to the EU acquis, with the decisive support of Greece and eventually the understanding of the stakes by all the members of the Union, ushered in a new era. Bemusement, disappointments, mishaps and missteps should not hide the tremendous significance of belonging to the Union and its potential to objectively create the conditions that would render the de facto partition of the island a solipsistic anachronism. It thus juxtaposes the logic of integration and unification with the logic of division and the agenda of de facto annexation pursued by Turkey.

Of course, the global geopolitical landscape has changed, in particular with the end of the cold war, and continues to shift with new realignments in our region and around the world. The hegemonic ambitions of countries like Turkey and the rise of a new configuration of power in the aftermath of the Arab spring are a testament to that, as are the conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nagorno-Karabakh, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel and the very acute confrontations in the eastern Mediterranean and in other parts of the world around natural resources and delimitation of maritime boundaries. Tensions are compounded by transformational challenges, from climate change and migration, to the lasting effects of the 2008 global economic crisis, the asymmetric threats and the multifaceted calamity that is the ongoing pandemic.

As of late, in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, the progressively waning US presence has contributed to unleashing and accentuating centrifugal forces and has also provided space to Turkey’s authoritarian and belligerent regime: its aggressiveness and Ottoman-inspired ambitions are adding instability in an already volatile region and are accelerating a forced and anomalous/fractious/irregular reshaping of alliances as well as unprecedented manoeuvring.

Despite this overwhelming source of threat so close to it, Cyprus has not changed the fundamental tenets of its foreign policy: peaceful cooperation in our region while respecting sovereign equality; full and constructive participation in the European Union and enhancing its engagement as a strategic actor in its immediate neighbourhood; international legality and effective multilateralism as the main mitigating factor to the prevalence of might and as the main ingredient for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Cyprus’ direct reliance on effective multilateralism is evidenced in the long involvement of the United Nations on two fronts, the UN peacekeeping force deployed in 1964 upon the request of the Cyprus Government and the mission of Good Offices entrusted to the Secretary General of the United Nations by the Security Council. Numerous UN Resolutions define the framework for the settlement of the Cyprus problem, shaping the parameters of the island’s reunification.

Full participation in the European Union, including its common foreign, security and defence policies, strengthens the multilateral element of Cypriot foreign policy, in particular bearing in mind that today the EU is probably the strongest proponent of effective multilateralism with the United Nations at its core. Belonging to the European family is the natural place to be in historical and civilizational terms, but also as the par excellence investment in a future of security, prosperity, respect, and unity in a space of values, rights and progress.

In the regional context, building excellent relations with all countries has become a reality, with the notable exception of Turkey, which has effectively excluded itself with its heavy handed insistence for preferential treatment and its contempt for the applicable international legal framework. Synergy, cooperation and coordination, through among others, a series of trilateral mechanisms, draws from objective convergences and augurs the emergence of an economic and political space with unlimited potential.

The discoveries of natural gas by Israel and Egypt and to a much lesser extent by Cyprus seemed to open prospects of constructive engagement in the service of shared prosperity. Cyprus has concluded agreements delimiting its maritime space with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon (this last one is not in force yet). Israel, Cyprus and Greece are working on a pipeline that will channel natural gas to Europe, diversifying energy sources and routes for the European Union and enhancing energy security.

The multiplicity of cultures, traditions and membership of these varying configurations and the objective convergence of interests are expected to continue in the coming years and further provide fertile ground for growth and prosperity and the substrate for successfully addressing outstanding persistent and so far intractable conflicts, by creating a space of collective political and economic advantages at the expense of zero sum approaches.

In this context, Cyprus’ foreign policy should not be expected to undergo a dramatic change in its orientation in the years to come. It has to continue investing in the EU and in effective multilateralism by:

1)   fully playing its part in contributing to further European integration;

2)   working to strengthen the United Nations through preserving its relevance and the compliance of states with its decisions;

3)   working to ensure the accountability of states in respect of their international obligations, to strengthen the rule of law at the international level and to further mainstream international justice; and

4)   promoting enhanced regional political and economic cooperation, through partnerships and ventures, taking into account also the need to counter the climate change threats particular to our region.

In a fragmented new world with selective sensitivities and double standards, disengagement and withdrawal are not viable options, nor do they offer any solutions. Even though reliance on the international community has not yielded the expected results in terms of solving the Cyprus problem, it has contributed to the containment of existential dangers and it has kept alive the hope for peace and the framework within to achieve it. One would be hard pressed to suggest credible alternatives for small states facing big and powerful enemies. Pushing ahead with determination to take our country’s fate in our own hands is the only way.